Until now, the five-member Carroll County Narcotics Task Force has been going about its business -- conducting raids, seizing drugs and making arrests -- without ever knowing whether it is a police group or another arm of the State's Attorney's Office.
But a $10.5 million lawsuit filed by Westminster attorney Stephen P. Bourexis may leave it up to a judge to decide exactly what the task force is.
Mr. Bourexis' lawsuit seeks damages because the lawyer claims he and his clients are blackballed from entering plea agreements with the drug-fighting group.
Attorneys for Andrew McKendrick, a defendant in the suit, want the suit dismissed, arguing that he is immune from it because he was acting as a member of a group that is "an arm of the prosecutor's office" and is entitled to prosecutors' immunity.
The dismissal request is the first time anyone has tried to define the task force as either an offshoot of the state's attorney's office or as a police agency.
"We have never said what we think the task force is," State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said yesterday. "This will be one for the courts to decide."
Mr. Bourexis and his law partner and attorney Judith S. Stainbrook have often said they believe the task force is illegal. In their answers to Mr. McKendrick's dismissal request, they wrote, "It is not clear what the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force is. [We say] it is an illegal agency which operates without the benefit of statutory or constitutional authority."
The task force's identity crisis is just one issue in the 14-count civil suit. The Maryland Attorney General's Office, representing the entire task force, also has filed a dismissal request.